Te Kanawa, who retired from the opera stage in 2004 but still
sings recitals, was misty eyed after video tributes from famous
singers she has worked with, including Frederica von Stade, Jose
Carreras and Placido Domingo, were shown on a screen at the end
of a production of Donizetti's comic opera "La Fille du
"After this day... I'm going to do a runner, and there's no more
birthdays," Te Kanawa said to laughter from the sold-out opera
"I thank this whole cast for the most wonderful performance and
I'm so pleased that I was able to do five minutes of this," Te
Kanawa, who played what is usually the non-singing role of the
Duchess of Crackentorp in the production.
A special aria, lifted from Puccini's opera "Edgar", was
inserted for Te Kanawa to sing, giving the audience a glimpse of
her famous creamy high notes.
"I thank you all so much and keep up the spirit and the love of
classical music," Te Kanawa said after the audience had sung
"Happy Birthday" to her.
Domingo, with whom Te Kanawa sang in a fabled production of
Puccini's "Manon Lescaut", in his video tribute welcomed her
into her 70s where he noted he had preceded her by three years.
"It's a wonderful world...it's so beautiful," the Spanish tenor
said before launching into "Happy Birthday" to Kiri.
Te Kanawa, who is of half-Maori descent and made her reputation
singing countesses and duchesses in Mozart and Strauss operas,
told Reuters in an interview before the performance that she was
thrilled to be celebrating her birthday at Covent Garden.
She had her first big international success at Covent Garden
singing the role of Countess Almaviva in Mozart's "The Marriage
of Figaro" in 1971.
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"It is really my home house, I did everything from here, wrong or
right, right or wrong, but I had some wonderful experiences at the
Royal Opera House Covent Garden and made some wonderful old
friends," she said.
She attributed the quality of her voice to having been gentle with
it during nearly 40 years on the opera stage.
"I suppose I'm really quite surprised that my voice is in such good
shape but I never really did it a lot of damage, I didn't do the
wrong things," she told Reuters in a backstage interview before the
"Sometimes I overworked and of course you pay the price but my voice
is still good, the high notes are still there — maybe not as high as
it used to be but still at age 70 I'm not quite sure who sings top
D's anyway," she said, referring to a note at the top end of the
Although opera and music audiences know her from the stage and
recordings, including singing the role of Maria in a famous
"operatic" recording of Leonard Bernstein's "West Side Story",
television viewers saw her more recently as soprano Dame Nellie
Melba in an episode of the popular British serial "Downton Abbey"
which Te Kanawa said was "a wonderful experience".
She said she Had particularly enjoyed meeting all the cast and
getting "lots and lots of pictures", but also got a kick out of
knowing how the show ended months ahead of time.
"We just said it was going to be dramatic and that's all we would
say — we didn't want to tell anyone about what was going on in the
script," she said.
(Editing by Clive McKeef)
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